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Fatigue is the most common side effect of cancer treatment. It can appear suddenly, be overwhelming, and is not always relieved by rest. It can also last for months after treatment ends. Cancer treatment-related fatigue can affect many aspects of a person’s life, including the ability to do usual activities. Cancer fatigue is real, and should not be ignored. It can be worse when a person is dehydrated, anemic, in pain, not sleeping well, or has an infection.

Just as every cancer patient’s treatment is different, the fatigue felt will also be different. While one person may feel very tired, another may not. And one person’s fatigue may last longer than another patient’s. Experts say fatigue caused by cancer treatment is temporary. Your energy will slowly come back, especially if you stay moderately active. However, cancer patients can help combat fatigue themselves with the following suggestions.

Rest, But Not Too Much
  • Plan your day so you have time to rest.
  • Take short naps or breaks, rather than one long rest period.  However, while sleep and rest are important, don’t overdo it.
  • Too much rest can decrease your energy level. In other words, the more you rest, the more tired you will feel.
  • If you have trouble sleeping, talk to your health care professional.

Stay Active
  • Stay as active as you can. Regular moderate exercise—especially walking—has been found to be the best remedy for fatigue.
  • Add other activities that are less strenuous, like bird watching, listening to music, or reading.
  • To help you plan your activities, keep a diary of how you feel each day.
  • In assessing your fatigue, doctors or nurses may ask how severe it is (rated from 0-10), what are the patterns to it, and what makes it better or worse?  
  • Keep a detailed record of how you feel.

Save Your Energy
  • Plan ahead.
  • Spread your activities throughout the day.
  • Don’t push yourself by standing too long or by doing activities in extreme temperatures.
  • Even long, hot showers or baths can drain you of energy.
  • Store items within easy reach, so you won’t have to strain to get them from overhead storage.
  • Take rest breaks between activities to save your energy for the things you want to.
  • Most of all, prioritize. Decide which activities are really important to you and which ones aren’t.
Get Help With Tasks
  • Ask family or friends to help with tasks you find difficult or tiring, like lawn mowing, preparing meals, doing housework, or running errands.
  • Don’t force yourself to do more than you can manage.
  • It may be difficult for others to understand if rest does not make your fatigue go away. Explain that the fatigue you feel is different from the fatigue you had before treatment.
  • Find low-maintenance help – you may need someone who will just do it and sneak away quietly with no conversation. Identify a job coordinator, someone who can get helpers organized, so you don’t have to deal with routine chores.

Get Support
  • Consider joining a support group.
  • Sharing your feelings with others can ease the burden of fatigue. You can learn coping hints from others by talking about your situation.
  • Ask your health care professional to put you in touch with a support group in your area.

Eat Well
  • Drink plenty of water and juices.
  • Eat as nutritiously as you can.
  • Try to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

Call Your Doctor
  • If you feel too tired to get out of bed over a 24 hour period
  • If you feel confused
  • If you feel dizzy, lose your balance or fall, have a problem waking up, if you have a problem catching your breath, if the fatigue becomes progressively worse